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With the prevalence of rodents and stored product pests in food processing facilities, other pests often take a secondary focus. But with the rate at which populations can explode and the contamination they can carry, that’s not such a good idea where cockroaches are concerned. In fact, according to Pest Control Technology (PCT) magazine’s 2016 State of the Cockroach Market report sponsored by Syngenta, only 8% of the surveyed PMPs have seen cockroach-related service calls decrease. And in the 2017 report, 32% of PMPs said cockroach control services have become a “more significant”part of their business in the past five years.

It also is important to note that the most prevalent of cockroaches was reported to be the German species — with 97% of respondents citing it as problematic. The responses dropped off from there, with 66% also citing American; 41%, Oriental; and 20%, brown-banded — but even at those rates, these cockroaches still were seen as being problematic.

While it may be interesting to list these species, does it really matter? Isn’t a cockroach a cockroach? They’re all the same; they are bad news in a food facility and need to be controlled. Right? Yes ... and no.

Yes, they are all bad news and need to be controlled, but, no, they are not all the same. (See Four Common Cockroaches, below.) This means that the control measures selected cannot be all the same either.

SAME BUT DIFFERENT. Any cockroach that gets into a food facility is of concern because all species have been implicated with some human pathogen, such as E. coli, Clostridium spp., Bacillus spp., Enterobacter aerogens, Salmonella spp., as well as various fungi, molds, and viruses, said Syngenta Technical Service Manager Chris Keefer.

“Cockroaches tend to be categorized as secondary, but there is incredible potential for serious issues,” said Bayer Environmental Science’s Professional Pest Management Technical Service Lead Joe Barile. Even if a plant is well-maintained, cockroaches — particularly the notorious German — can be carried in with deliveries, employee belongings, vending-machine snacks, etc. Even cockroaches that prefer the outdoors can live and breed indoors with sufficient food, water, and shelter —all of which are generally abundant in food processing facilities.

One of the greatest problems with cockroaches is that they often go unseen until a population is high. That is because cockroaches can be living in the walls by day and trekking through garbage and urinals to food-contact surfaces and packaging as they forage by night, but, Barile said, “They don’t tend to be a high priority ... until they become a problem.”

While that “problem” is often the contamination of food or a sighting by an inspector or auditor regardless of the cockroach species, the presence of a specific species could indicate a specific problem. For example, because the American cockroach is drawn to high-moisture areas, an infestation can signify that you have a moisture issue or plumbing leak, said MGK Technical Field Specialist Thomas Powell.

Thus, the varying preferences and behaviors of each species means a single control plan won’t necessarily work for all. In the case of water issues, Powell said, he has had situations in which the problem was only found through the use of a moisture meter, and walls had to be torn out to fix the issue.

Nisus Corporation Director of Technical Services Reid Ipser provided another example, stating, “Cockroach species, such as German and American cockroaches, have established significant attraction to areas favored by humans. Other cockroach species, such as the Oriental, smokey brown, and brown-banded roach are peridomestic and can shy away from human areas. These behaviors factor how each are introduced and what their preferred harborage areas are.”

Thus, said BASF Technical Services Representative Jason Meyers, “Control techniques for each vary wildly, so it is prudent to correctly identify not just the species but to associate your control techniques to their behavior.” And it’s not always easy.

COCKROACH CONTROL. With EPA focused on where pesticides go after they are applied, even when applied in the right places, Barile said, “Some of the practices we used to use aren’t allowed anymore.” For example, there are more limitations on general spray and dust applications and the amount of bait that can be placed.

Although this can be good for the environment, it also can mean that pesticides don’t get into some areas that pests are (e.g., sewer systems), so cockroaches are able to thrive there. And, from there, they can move into buildings and into sensitive areas. “It’s a dilemma; it’s a really tough challenge,” Barile said. “So you can be challenged with remediation that’s very complex.”

Thus, he said, “Today’s products are good, but you cannot rely just on pesticides to solve the problem. The most important thing still today is the relationship between the service provider and the plant as partners.”

It is a partnership in which each side has responsibilities in communication and action. “The most important thing food plants can do is to listen and adhere to the PMP’s instructions to help avoid these pests and to reduce their numbers as soon as possible,” Meyers said.

Additionally, said MGK Technical Services Manager Chris Swain, most pest control companies provide pest-sighting logbooks, which should be put in multiple locations. “That is critical for control because the technician is there for a limited time.”

When a plant employee notes the day, time, and location where he or she saw a pest, the PMP can inspect and monitor that area to discern the pest, the problem — and the solution. Keep the insect if possible, marking the container with the date and location found, Swain added. “That’s great information for the technician.”

TAKING ACTION. Even beyond communication and reporting, action is needed by the food facility. “Removal of conducive conditions is the key,” Swain said. “If you don’t have conducive conditions, you won’t have the pest.”

As Ipser said, “There are a multitude of tactics for controlling pest populations. Use a combination of monitoring, inspection, and application of proper products that pinpoint any pest issue. Furthermore, a sanitation program must be established. Without proper sanitation, efforts will be futile.”

Again, however, there will be some differentiation by species. German cockroaches require a potential combination of baiting, dilutable insecticides, and cleaning of the facility in particular areas. But the other cockroaches are more typically controlled with dilutable insecticide use, sticky traps, and reducing the infestation routes of entry into the structure as recommended by the PMP, Meyers said, adding, “The control efforts may easily change based upon local conditions and plant sensitivities.”

KEEPING COCKROACHES OUT. The goal, Keefer said, is to eliminate the three requisites for life: food, water, and harborage. “Utilize all methods of control: cultural, mechanical, chemical, and biological (if warranted). Build a protocol around integrated pest management. Treatment should include exclusion because cockroaches can migrate between rooms via plumbing and electrical connections.” (For exclusion tips, see Now Is a Good Time to Exclude Pests, QA March/April 2015.)

Exclusion also is important because many food processing facilities have aging infrastructures. “Plants that were new as little as 10 years ago can have issues that give pests an opportunity to become established,” Barile said.

Thus, you need to understand potential problem areas of your facility, and be proactive to prevent conducive conditions and entry points for pests. Have a schedule to look at the areas such as physical condition of the line, operational practices, and the impact of aging on the line, he said.

Remember that “entry points” can be deliveries. Always inspect incoming deliveries and delivery trucks, Powell said. Giving an example of bakery delivery, he said that should include not only the truck that delivers the bread to retail; but also the racks on which the bread is carried into the store then placed back in the truck; the dollies on which the racks are wheeled; and any other equipment used.

“Usually when talking about food processing, shipping and receiving is the bigger part of the business, so it can bring in cockroaches,” he said.

It is for this reason as well that, Powell said, “The first step for any of the cockroaches is monitoring.” By placing and checking monitors, you can stay on top of issues and react before they get out of hand, regardless of the species or entry points.

Know the potential of pests in your facility, then do everything you can to make every area of your facility and processes as pest-unfriendly as possible, Barile said. “I would evaluate where these could be, and they would become my CCPs.”

“It is important to understand the differences between these cockroaches for one simple reason: control,” Keefer said. “Know how to properly identify each species; know their life cycle, behavior, and historical tendencies in order to control each.”

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.